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Laid out before me was the skeleton remains of a White-tailed deer: clear signs of a wolf kill site. The ribs were facing up-right, the hide was in a tight bundle beside the remains, and the fur lay on the ground in a circle all around the remains. I felt a great deal of respect for both the deer and the wolf. This was part of nature’s plan, part of the predator and prey dynamics. I came upon the site in the year 2003 while scouting my wolf tracking block, and those memories remind me of my time spent observing wolf signs during Wisconsin’s wolf recovery program.
When I became a volunteer Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Winter wolf tracker in the year 2000, there were just 66 wolf packs. I was assigned a wolf tracking block in Douglas County, Wisconsin. The gray wolf population flourished while under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Thirty years after Wisconsin began its wolf recovery program, I witnessed it disappear altogether. Wolf recovery went from zero to sixty, resulting in three consecutive wolf hunts, mandated by the conservative controlled state legislature.
The most unfortunate aspect of this process was the loss of public education & input: the conservative party controlled wolf management. And, to top it off, anti-wolf fringe hunters also came to dominate politics. They pushed misinformation instead of science. They began campaigns full of political rhetoric designed to scare the public. The propaganda by anti-wolf politicians & fringe hunters were claiming wolves are killing all the deer, and the people in the northwoods don’t want them in their backyards.
Today I’m reminded of these same political dynamics that surrounded gray wolf management in Wisconsin back then. I debated writing about the recent events surrounding wolf management in Wisconsin because I felt drained by the drama of it all. It’s just more of the same, just a different day, different year and different decade with politics that surround the wolf. It’s more about people than wolves because people drive politics.
Take for instance the August 11, 2021 meeting of the Natural Resources Board (NRB). The chair, Dr. Prehn (R), wants a wolf hunt so bad that he refuses to relinquish his seat to Governor Evers’ (D) appointee, Sandy Naas, and it’s made headlines all over the world.
At the NRB meeting, chair Prehn and four other board members went against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) scientific recommendations of a wolf quota of 130 and voted it up to 300. They also voted that the DNR must get approval from the NRB if they change the 300 quota number. That move puts conservatives in the majority to control wolf hunting in November 2021.
For the most part, it’s interesting to add for public information that many are the same players from the past decade. The same party holds majority power, and refuses to hear any scientific evidence, just as before during the prior three wolf hunts. These same tactics led to the gray wolf being relisted. A Federal Judge ordered that endangered species protection be restored immediately in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan on December 19, 2014.
?I’m witnessing the same political ploys being carried over to today’s NRB. In the past, the wolf advisory meetings that were run under then DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp (R) were chalked full of dirty politics and it’s no different today. It was as hard to watch then as today. Because the same anti-wolf propaganda is being carried on in today’s wolf management. Just like back then, the anti-wolf crowd would have you believe everyone living in wolf country doesn’t want them there.
Meanwhile, I don’t believe the anti-wolf’s argument that all the people living in wolf territory want them gone or hunted down to a population of 350.
Based on my experience, not everyone in wolf country hates & fears wolves. I track wolves in Douglas County, Wisconsin. In 2004 I needed a plot map for tracking and went over to the Douglas County forestry office to purchase one. While I was standing by the counter, in the office waiting for someone to wait on me, I looked up to see several pictures hanging above the counter of wolf puppies.
In conclusion, in a DNR Public Attitudes Towards Wolves Survey taken in 2014, Douglas County has the highest density of wolves and people, with 56% of the citizens wanting to live with wolves. Interestingly enough, Douglas County has the oldest populations of wolves and the most tolerant people, showing that Wisconsinites can coexist with wolves.
Therefore, I encourage Wisconsinites to get involved in the wolf management plan that is in the process of being written.
Rachel Tilseth is volunteer WDNR wolf tracker since 2000, freelance writer and educator living in the northwoods of Wisconsin.